Cart Before the Horse(?)

The recent flurry of activity from NCARB — and the requisite mixed bag of reactions from the architectural community, complete with hand-wringing that comes with the idea of changing something about the process — has had me thinking a lot about change, change for change’s sake, and how we as a culture react to it. It’s certainly not the first time NCARB has made modifications to their programs and policies, and I doubt that it will be the last. In honor of the now-ubiquitous Throwback Thursday, here’s an example from my own personal experiences.

Confession time: I graduated from college — and entered the workforce — in June of 2000. (Yes, again, another reminder that I’m getting old.) It was a simpler time — Facebook hadn’t been invented (much less gone mainstream) just yet, Twitter was even further off, and a “smart phone” was one that had a camera. I also walked uphill to the office, both ways, in driving rain and snow… (I’m only kidding about that last part. It was a bridge, not a hill.) But I digress… Back in my day, an intern had to complete IDP (filling out Experience Reports BY HAND) before being they could even consider starting the ARE.

I know what you’re thinking: Facebook hadn’t been invented yet!?! Stay with me, here…

When I began my internship, taking my first steps on my path to becoming an architect, candidates had to complete IDP first (earning your minimum amount of experience while doing so) before receiving their Authorization to Test. Under that model, the exam became a rite of passage… it was something that you worked toward, the culmination of your education and training, a palpable threshold that could be crossed. The ARE tested not only your ability to hit the books, but also the things that you had learned along the way. The experience became part of your preparation for the exam. (For the record, I completed IDP in early 2004, started testing — under ARE 3.1, mind you — in December of 2004, and finished nearly one year later, in December of 2005. Seems like only yesterday, but the fact that it’s been nearly ten years is staggering to me.) As most candidates know, that’s all changed now. Most jurisdictions allow their interns to take any (or all!) of the seven divisions of the exam as soon as they graduate from college, concurrent with earning IDP credit.

As NCARB has been quick to point out, taking the ARE concurrent with IDP has provided a great deal of flexibility in the internship process, allowing emergent professionals the chance to take a particular exam when it’s most convenient for them (even if they are out of work, which has been a major issue for our profession in recent years). It also eliminated some of the frustration inherent in IDP, which can drag out for years due to difficulty in gaining particular blocks of experience. Pennsylvania adopted concurrency in 2007, long after I was registered, which meant that I never had the opportunity to experience this in practice.
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Full disclosure: I’m not a big fan of concurrency, which to me feels like putting the cart before the horse. I feel that it has diluted the exam process, and in doing so, has taken some of the “oomph” out of licensure. It’s still no small feat, mind you — earning one’s license still requires 5,600 hours of experience and seven passing scores, no matter what order you decide to tackle them. But there was something about the significance in completing IDP before starting the ARE, meaning that you had earned the experience and were ready to be tested on it. Then came scheduling the different divisions, each one a milestone in its own right, and getting those score reports, one by one. That last “pass” letter was a powerful thing — it meant that you were DONE. Without it, and this is just my opinion here, it would seem to me that your internship ends not with a bang, as T. S. Eliot put it, but with a whimper.

It’s has nothing to do with the time factor — it’s just that I don’t feel that the test was meant to be taken by someone fresh out of school, someone who hasn’t yet experienced many of the things that are meant to be tested. More to the point, without the proper context, some candidates might not even realize why a particular question was even important. The exam loses its heft when it’s nothing more than a chore, something that just needs to be gotten out of the way.

Case in point: I can remember, very distinctly, sitting in on a construction meeting where the word “contingency” was mentioned. I was 27 years old at the time, and will openly admit (just as I did then) that I didn’t know what the term meant. The owners’ rep explained it to me, practically giving me a dictionary definition, but in the context of the project, I understood it. Two years later, while preparing for the ARE, that same definition showed up on the back of a flash card… and, later, a question about contingencies came up in my Contract Documents exam. I remember feeling that I had achieved some holistic understanding, that my study and experience were both informing my performance on the exam. I felt… well, I felt exactly how I think you’re supposed to feel in that situation. Confident. Composed. Collected. Without the experience to back it up, it would have just been another vocabulary lesson, a piece of architectural trivia. I don’t believe that interns are going to look back on the test, after completing IDP, and say something to the effect of “so *that’s* what that question was on my test!” Some will, I’m sure, but many won’t.

Again, these are just my opinions on the matter, which are deeply rooted in my own personal experiences with the exam and my internship. That said, opinions can change. In the time that I’ve spent talking with exam candidates and recently-registered professionals, I’ve come to appreciate the freedom that concurrency has offered in the process… particularly in recent years, when practical experience (you know, the kind that came with a paycheck) was hard to come by, and I certainly do not discount that. The point here is this: if I had vehemently opposed concurrency for those reasons, expecting every architect that came after me to have the same exact internship experience as I did, countless interns would not have benefitted from the more streamlined process. The sum of the requisite parts is still the same, just the order in which they’ve been undertaken is slightly different. Those who are opposed to the currently proposals for changes in the system, without allowing them a chance to develop, are in danger of putting an overturned cart in front of our collective horse, a roadblock that is potentially more damaging to our profession than it is helpful.

Some parting thoughts: The pending changes to the ARE, as well as the idea of sweeping changes to IDP, offers an opportunity to revisit our attitudes toward concurrency, as well. The proposed overhaul of IDP, aligning the experience settings with the ARE 5.0 exam divisions, is a game-changer that I hope also will have some influence over how interns (or whatever we will be calling them at that point) approach the test, which I will elaborate upon later. Under the current model, though, my preference for concurrency would be some sort of a hybrid — earning a minimal amount of experience (say, 1800 hours, the equivalent of one year, in any experience setting) before being allowed to sit for the exam; the test would then be taken while the candidate continues to earn IDP hours. Maybe that one year will empower and embolden some, giving them the confidence to charge ahead. Maybe it will show others that they might not be quite ready just yet, that there are still too many questions to which they don’t know the answers. (By the way, that will never change… it’s your confidence that you will find the answer that makes you a professional.)

The best part? The inherent flexibility of concurrency would still be part of the process. Finish the ARE before IDP if you want — that’s your choice. Or allow yourself the chance for that last “PASS” letter to be the oomph at the end of your internship, letting it go out with the bang it deserves. Again, just my opinion. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

Great Expectations

NCARB’s annual meeting, held in Philadelphia this year, is close to wrapping up… and I, for one, am glad. This week has been chock full of announcements about changes to policies surrounding both IDP and the ARE that its been nearly impossible for me to keep up. (Note to NCARB — love the enthusiasm, but can’t we spread these out a little? Like, maybe one groundbreaking change a week? Thanks…)

To summarize, this past week saw huge announcements regarding palpable changes to the time involved in the IDP process as well as retesting for failed divisions of the ARE. The much-maligned “six-month rule” (you know, the one that says any experience older than six months is no longer valid) is being phased out, while the six-month waiting period for retesting after a failed division of the ARE will be dropping to a mere 60 days. Coincidence? Not sure. Both announcements reflect NCARB’s constant commitment to re-evaluating their programs and guidelines to meet the needs of emergent professionals. I’ll address my thoughts on both of these changes in future posts…

But wait — they’re not through yet! A proposal has also been announced that would significantly reduce the amount of time required in IDP by refocusing on the core hours of the various content areas. If successful, the proposal would eliminate elective hours and reduce the 5,600 hours of IDP by nearly a third. (The proposal is rooted in scientific data, such as the results of the most recent practice analysis. That said, I have some mixed feelings about this one that I will explore in a later post…)

All of these announcements have come in a haze of diaper changes, late-night feedings, and a general “what day is it again?” erratic schedule that comes with welcoming a newborn into the home, which my wife and I did just this past Saturday. It’s actually poetically appropriate, as I try to relearn how to be a caregiver to a new baby, that these policy changes turn the familiar on its ear. Bear with me as I play catch-up. For now, enjoy this shot of my son getting to know his new baby sister.

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On the Radar

This post really needs to start with an acknowledgement of just how far OFF the radar I’ve been in the past few weeks… it really is amazing how many different things that life likes to throw at us at any one given time, and how that can wreak havoc on even the best of intentions. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I haven’t published a fresh post in over a month (interestingly enough, it was also about my bursting-at-the-seams schedule), a near-eternity in the blogosphere– in that time, I’ve packed up every one of my earthly belongings, sold my home of the last seven years, and moved my wife and son into a temporary living arrangement with my in-laws. Not to mention deadlines on three different projects, a few late nights for project interviews, a presentation for an ARE Review Session, a last-minute trip to Nashville for the NIRSA conference last week (which was something that I really want to spend some time talking about, in a later post…), and, oh yeah, trying to be a somewhat attentive husband and dad. At the risk of sounding like I’m complaining (hey, waitaminute… didn’t I recently share an article on Twitter about how saying you’re too busy is a horrible excuse for anything…!?), my airspace has been a little crowded lately… hopefully I didn’t leave any of you hanging.

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Image credit: FreeImages.com, shared here under the standard restrictions.

Earlier this year I was quite humbled when NCARB mentioned me in their brand-spankin’ new blog as one of the “11 Twitter Accounts that Every Architecture Student Should Follow.” (Maybe I should be thankful that it wasn’t “the top ten Twitter accounts…?”… heh.) Today I find myself humbled once again to have my blog (that labor of love, flight of fancy, and sounding board for ARE and IDP advice…as well as any other random and mildly relevant thought that might pop into my head) included in NCARB’s latest post, “The Best Blogs for Architectural Interns and Students.” Again, I find myself in the most excellent of company, which includes some of my personal favorites — Brinn Miracle’s ArchiTangent (quietly intelligent about design, sustainability, and the licensing exam) and Bob Borson’s The Life of an Architect (who has basically written the book on blogging about being an architect) — both of whom, by the way, were also featured by NCARB for their Twitter feeds — as well as Jared Banks’ ShoeGnome (forcing me to reconsider virtually everything about the way we represent ourselves and our work) and Jenny Cestnik’s AREndurance (putting a very human face to the exam process). Longtime readers will remember that each one of these has been listed in my “Other Paths to Follow” widget off to the right for as long as I’ve been maintaining this site, and for good reason — I’ve enjoyed reading, following, and most importantly, being inspired by, their work, and think that others would benefit from their words as much as I have been. (And I’m really looking forward to checking out Stuck in Studio and Just and Intern, too…!) I’m still a relative newbie when it comes to blogging, but each of these sites has impressed me with their honesty, intelligence, humor, and heart — a combination that, to me, is exactly what a blog should have.

When I started this little project, all I wanted to do was to offer some unbiased advice, rooted deeply in my own personal experience as a young architect. The fact that I’ve been included in such a wonderful group is mind-boggling (I keep hitting refresh, and I’m still listed!)… and also a little daunting, too. I may have been able to delude myself before, but it looks like I’m officially on the radar now. So, a promise to my followers, both current and new, I have several new posts queued up and ready to launch over the coming weeks… just in the nick of time, apparently. No more month-long hiatuses for me, I guess… (although I hope you’ll give me a little break when I tackle that next deadline, move into my new home, and welcome my newborn daughter… all in the next two months. Sigh…)

(Sincerest thanks — again — to the folks at NCARB’s blog for the attention… and yes, I *am* working on that post for your blog, too… it’s around here somewhere, I promise…)

In Absentia

I should be on my way to Washington right now, to take part in the AIA’s Grassroots Leadership and Advocacy Conference. Unfortunately, between client meetings for two different projects, a deadline for a third, and several other commitments, the trip to the capital just wasn’t in the cards this year. I’ve always said that family comes first, work comes second, and volunteer efforts come third, but I’m still a little disappointed that I have to miss it.

This would have been my third Grassroots — longtime fans of my blog (both of you!) might remember my post from last year’s event, and I had also shared my experience from 2012’s conference on AIA Pittsburgh’s website. This year, I was really looking forward to reconnecting with my fellow facilitators from the Emerging Professionals Summit (by the way, check out the excellent recaps in the current issue of CONNECTION!)… and the opportunity to formally endorse the National Design Services Act by lobbying my congressmen to support the bill. Support for the NDSA is one of the major talking points for the Capitol Hill visits this year, so I will leave this in the more than capable hands of the other 700+ architects that will be attending the conference. I’ll rely on Twitter to keep getting the word out.

For the record, I’m not a fan of the concept of student loan forgiveness, but I wholeheartedly support the idea of the NDSA, and hope that it sees its way into legislation.  What I like the most about the Act is that it isn’t offering a free ride — by trading design services for loan assistance, it places value on design while offering graduates a chance to provide humanitarian aid through their skill set.  Having recently paid off my student loans, I can appreciate how difficult it can be starting out on your own with so much debt to repay… but the fact that I worked every day to pay off my lender makes me completely against the idea of a scot-free bailout for anyone.  The NDSA seems like a perfect solution to an increasingly difficult problem facing our profession… the very thing that Grassroots is meant for.

Not going to Grassroots?  For more information about the NDSA, including ways you or your chapter can assist with legislation in your area, click here.

Left Turns

It’s hard for me to believe that, after over two months of planning, the Emerging Professionals Summit has come and gone. With it, my first visit to Albuquerque, a fact that met with some bemusement to my family and some of my friends, the ones that cut their teeth on the same pop culture classics as I did, for whom the city will always be associated with Bugs Bunny and his famous lack of direction. (Plus, I have to admit that I was pretty psyched to visit the setting of one of the greatest pieces of television ever made. No, not Breaking Bad… I was referring to that timeless coming of age story, High School Musical.)

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Albuquerque — and more specifically, the gorgeous Hotel Andaluz — was the site of the AIA’s 2014 Emerging Professionals Summit. Sixty professionals representing the AIA, as well as the various collateral organizations, gathered there to discuss future directions for the Institute, and ultimately the profession, in the interests of avoiding the somewhat dystopian view of our future (or any version of it) that I shared in my previous post. Our discussions in Albuquerque (graphically recorded for posterity’s sake) will form the basis for the next three to five years’ worth of initiatives that the AIA can undertake in order to strengthen the profession for emergent professionals. Bold ideas were encouraged, maybe even challenged, by AIA leadership (including CEO Robert Ivy and 2014 President Helene Combs Dreiling), and in response, bold ideas were proposed. Our conversations focused on four main aspects of practice — Education, Licensure, Career Development, and Firm Culture — with the expectation of more than just talk. Our primary responsibility for the weekend was to be demonstrative, ensuring that tangible, actionable results would be able to be derived from our discourse. It was a hefty charge, one that I’m proud to have been a part of.

Hefty charges, of course, often bring with them a fair share of self doubt. There will many, I’m sure, that will question our findings, asking if we should have zigged instead of zagged, made a left turn where we decided to go right. Perhaps we should have taken that left turn in Albuquerque. Only time will tell. The point of the exercise was not necessarily to pose a solution, but to chart a course. The destination is for all of us to find, together. I’m looking forward to seeing where we go from here.

Make Your Mark

The AIA’s 2014 Emerging Professionals summit takes place later this week. Between Friday to Sunday, 60 professionals from across the country, representing the AIA and the other collateral organizations, will gather in Albuquerque to discuss the future of the profession, in order to position us for the next 20 years of practice. Late last year, anyone interested in participating was invited to submit an essay answering the question “In 2033, what role are architects playing in society?” In honor of the summit, I’ve decided to share my submission here. (For another emerging professional’s response, click here.) Join the conversation at epsummit.mindmixer.com, and follow the Summit on Twitter at #2014EPSummit.

March 14, 2033: I find myself celebrating my 56th birthday with our company in the last stages of a corporate buyout. Next Monday, I will begin the last phase of my career, acting as a consultant for a global construction management entity that has chosen to incorporate our staff into their local Real Estate Development group. Our offices have shared a long history of collaboration — as a small general contractor, they built many of our designs, giving them a foothold in the industry that allowed their business to flourish as ours, ironically, continued to grow smaller — and out of respect, our firm was acquired for its skills in space planning, programming, and code analysis.

The last time I packed up my workstation – fifteen years ago, when we moved to a smaller, more efficient tenant space – was a cumbersome undertaking, but I’m finding it surprisingly easy this time around. Our fully-integrated building models are entirely cloud-based, with changes uploaded instantaneously to the field model in the construction trailer, making the clutter of paper documents a thing of the past. Most of our digital information was already housed on our new partner’s network, making my move to their office no more complicated than syncing my tablet. It’s a seamless transition, especially since we had already adopted the contractor’s document management process years ago, in the interests of a more integrated delivery system. Following their paradigm was more cost-effective than creating our own.

With no paper documents to sift through, the focus is mostly my personal belongings, including some well-worn books and my stamp — which, having been used only a handful of times, looks as pristine as the day that I received it nearly 30 years ago. Hermetically sealed in a small glass display case, a gift from my wife when I was named senior associate, the simple inscription upon it still rings true, figuratively if not literally: “Make your mark.” It’s been a museum piece, a marvel to the paraprofessionals in the office, not only because the idea of putting ink on paper seems as dirty as it does antiquated, but because the act itself no longer has any meaning. By accepting all of the risk on a building project, the construction manager’s virtual signature, digitally encoded into each document, has physically and legally replaced the architect’s stamp.

My college diploma is next to be packed, another relic from a time gone by. Ten years ago, when academia standardized a “licensure at graduation” model, the need for practical experience was eliminated. A formalized internship program vanished, leaving us with no established method of training. The sense of entitlement — that a credential need not be earned — crippled the profession, breeding an entire generation of talented designers with little technical ability; an architect’s license lost its value. The backlash, realized in a huge drop in enrollment, forced several universities to drop their architecture programs, including my own. With no carrot to strive for, the younger professionals that remained lost their competitive edge. Many sought more challenging (and lucrative) work elsewhere, leaving the mid-range professionals like me with fewer resources to draw upon. The clout associated with the term “architect” — that the AIA had fought so hard to protect, for as long as I can remember — crumbled from within. We had spent so much time and energy worrying about how we were being perceived outside of our insular culture, that we neglected to focus on what was happening inside of it.

My afternoon will be spent in the file storage room, an archaeological dig through record documents and yellowed rolls of paper. It’s strange to see the names of former senior principals on these documents, proof that they did indeed deal with the daily mechanics on projects in the same way that I have. Having known them solely in marketing and business development roles, seeing their signatures on RFIs and change orders strikes me as odd; they always seemed to exist in different realm, separated from the rest of us by strategic planning, budgets, and spreadsheets. They have long since retired, taking their professional relationships and business acumen with them, leaving the next generation of leaders to essentially reinvent the wheel. It’s no surprise that, when given the reins, many of us struggled, and some failed; when the phone stopped ringing, the lack of mentorship at all levels of development in the profession became painfully evident.

I set the lid in place, the last remains of my formal career in architecture neatly boxed, musing inwardly that it didn’t have to be this way. A profession full of creative, intelligent, passionate individuals, we had the ability to change the course of events twenty years ago. By placing appropriate value on licensure, while still embracing non-traditional paths in practice. By fostering open collaboration with our fellow professionals, on both sides of the design community. By establishing ourselves as progressive leaders of change instead of followers, rigidly holding on to outdated ways of doing things. Most importantly, by encouraging mentorship and succession planning. By strengthening the profession from the inside, so that we had nothing left to prove to those outside of it. Simple concepts, but difficult to implement. It wouldn’t have been easy, it would have taken a collective effort from all of us, but it would have been worth it. The contents of this box deserved it.

Liberation

It’s the 16th of the month, which means it’s time for my mid-month round of bill paying. This time around, however, there’s one less to worry about. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to start off 2014 with a (relatively) clean slate — and with the help of a small monetary gift from Santa Claus, I have successfully paid off my student loans. It only took 13 years and one month… or, in other words, 157 easy installments, plus one big push at the end. Nothing to it. (Ha.)

Shawshank-Redemption-scriptI didn’t think that this day would ever come (when I started paying the loan, six months after I had graduated, the total amount was so large that it was difficult to fathom)… and now that it has, to be perfectly honest, it actually feels a little strange. (The curse of being anal-retentive and perpetually anxious, not paying that bill is actually making me uneasy, as if I’ve forgotten something… I suppose it will feel a little more real on the 16th of next month…?) The payment has been part of my monthly routine for my entire adult life. Many things have changed in that time — I’ve owned three different vehicles, moved several times (my varied rent payments eventually giving way to a mortgage), each living arrangment with a different type of utilities and set of providers, and somehow managed to finance an engagement ring and a wedding band — and all along the way, my loan payments have always been there, ever vigilant. The monthly payment amount might as well have been tattooed into my forehead; it’s only changed twice in that thirteen year period — once, when I consolidated my five separate loans into one, under a new loan carrier (which reduced the monthly payment by half), and a second time, when that carrier rewarded my repayment with a reduction in my interest rate (a whopping half-percent, but hey, it was something). Paying off the loan balance came with little fanfare — not that I was expecting streamers and confetti when I clicked “Submit Payment,” but a congratulatory email, maybe? Farewell and thank you for your business? Remember us when your kids start college? (Update: I did indeed receive a simple yet sincere letter of congratulations from my loan provider, just over one month after making that final payment… so apparently it took at least that long for it to become “real” for them, too?)

Along the way, I’ve read countless articles about managing your debt, including some very sound advice for paying off your loans faster; some of my favorites, such as “Just pay more against the principal!” (Thank you, faceless financial adviser — you do realize that a college graduate is reading this, right? I’ll cut back on the ramen noodles this month…) and “Skip the daily Starbucks run!” (Hello?! I can’t afford to buy coffee at Starbucks, BECAUSE I’M PAYING OFF MY SCHOOL LOANS!! Sheesh…), make the issue seem somewhat trivial, as if the problem were the fault of the student, not the system. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal last year, the country’s total student loan debt currently surpasses $1 trillion, and about 9% of all consumer debt is student loans (which is an increase of 3% from a decade ago). In December, CNN reported that the average student loan debt, per person, was $29,400 in 2012. I realize that I’ve been very fortunate to have been gainfully employed since I graduated, giving me the ability to continue to make those monthly payments consistently. The economy, particularly in recent years, hasn’t been as kind to many others. It’s no mystery why student loans have become our country’s latest debt crisis — it’s relatively easy to get a loan as an 18-year-old, but nearly impossible to pay it off when you’re 23 and unemployed.

Last year, I came across an article about lobbying efforts by the AIA and AIAS for student debt assistance, allowing graduates the opportunity to exchange pro-bono design services for loan forgiveness, very similar to established programs (like the Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders) for other professions. The proposed National Design Services Act would promote the work of community design centers and collaboratives in underserved areas, allowing architectural graduates the opportunity to do meaningful work and receive some consideration for their debt in return. To say that this is an incredible idea would be a severe understatement — this is just the sort of humanitarian effort that would appeal to many graduates from architectural programs, who could use their skills to make a difference in communities in need, and help with the debt issue certainly wouldn’t be anything to sneeze at.

For more information about the NDSA, including ways you or your chapter can assist with legislation in your area, click here. Or consider joining the AIA for lobbying efforts at the state or national level, where you can help by speaking directly to your elected representatives, putting a very real face to a very real issue.

Looking Back

2013 is drawing to a close. My first full year of In DePth has shown me that blogging on a regular schedule is, quite frankly, really hard to do. As much as I’ve enjoyed the blog, it still falls squarely into “hobby” territory… which puts it at a distant fifth place behind my family, my friends, my home, and my job. As a result, my publishing schedule was more than a little erratic — after feeling like I was running to stand still early in the year, I managed to hit my stride and publish a new post at least every two weeks over the summer (far more than I had ever imagined), but saw my productivity drop off rapidly in the last few months of the year (where deadlines and holidays might have been a factor). A tip of the hat to anyone out there that manages a blog on a weekly (or daily) basis.

My posts this year ranged from random thoughts on the practice of architecture, including some things that were tangentially related to it — my take on Ted Mosby became my second most popular post (and judging by the posts that were inspired by Mad Men, Grey’s Anatomy, and even Wheel of Fortune, I watch entirely too much television). (I also wrote about a roasting pan, a hot air balloon, and a giant rubber duck. Talk about your random thoughts.) However, in the interests of making this site actually somewhat useful, I also started including straightforward essays on the exam process and IDP; 2013 saw the launch of two recurring series of posts — Toward 5600, about Supplemental Experience in the IDP process, and 4.0 Average, offering exam advice — which seem to have been very well received. (Also the hardest to write, due to the fact-checking involved — the nature of the platform makes me nervous that I might accidentally spread some misinformation.)

The blog got some great publicity at the 2013 Coordinators Conference in July, where I used it as the prime example of how I use social media to supplement my role as State Coordinator. NCARB’s support of the blog has been invaluable; in fact, my most popular posts of the year were my perspectives on NCARB’s events, such as the Blackoutand the end to the duration requirements, and the piece that I wrote after the announcement of ARE 5.0 has proven to be my most popular ever. (Timing, it seems, is everything… but a few retweets from NCARB never hurt, either.)

I also had a few pieces published on AIA Pittsburgh’s site. Two of my blog posts (my report from Grassroots, and an essay on mentorship inspired by my son) were republished there, as well as two original articles — the paths to licensure taken by five recently registered architects, and a review of a playful new exhibit at the Carnegie Museum. Feel free to head on over and check them out.

Onward into 2014… hope to see you again soon. Happy New Year to you and yours.

Toward 5600: Back to School

The latest in a recurring series on earning Supplemental Experience toward the minimum 5,600 hours required to complete IDP.

Summer is officially over, and if the stream of my friends’ kids’ “first day of school” pictures in my News Feed is any indication, that means school is officially back in session. (This being 2013, it also means a few hysterical memes (like this one), but I digress…)

For many of our recent graduates (and maybe more than a few not-so-recent grads), this semester might mean the beginning of master’s degree program. Maybe it’s a planned part of your career path, or perhaps it’s a diversion from a job market that has proven to be less than favorable. Either way, post-graduates returning to school this fall can earn as many as 930 hours (toward Experience Setting “S”) by earning an Advanced Degree.

This option is a little more involved than many of the others, so I’d recommend making sure you understand all of the specific requirements that apply. First and foremost, you need to have earned an undergraduate degree — this experience applies to post-graduate work only. The advanced degree needs to be from a program in a school of architecture with NAAB (or CACB) accreditation. And, in addition to reporting the experience, you will also need to provide a transcript, similar to documenting your undergraduate degree. (You will need to upload a copy of the diploma to the online reporting system, but NCARB will only approve the experience after receiving a formal transcript from the university conferring the degree.) Then you just need to do the work, earn the degree, and report the experience.

20130906-065844.jpgHere’s the catch: Qualifying programs identified by NAAB as “post-professional” degrees are documented on a list available on NCARB’s website. The advanced degree must be on this list in order to receive credit — if you are enrolled in a program that you believe would qualify, have the institution contact NCARB directly. (NCARB will only consider adding degrees to the list that have been submitted by the university itself, not the student.)

An additional 930 hours of Supplemental Experience will take a decent chunk out of of your IDP (equivalent to one-sixth of the 5600 hours required, or roughly six months of work in a traditional setting), allowing you to continue with the program while furthering your education… and making this far from an academic discussion.

Miami Heat

I can’t believe it, but over a week has already gone by since the annual gathering of IDP Coordinators at the very appropriately named IDP Coordinators’ Conference (note: catching up after missing a few days of work makes blogging about it very difficult). As with last year, I was looking forward to the opportunity to catch up with my peers and gain more understanding of what my role entails… but a little concerned over my potential to burst into flame while doing so. The conference had shifted locations this year to Miami, and I wasn’t exactly built for the heat.

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Why, hello there, Miami…

While I missed Chicago, I’ve never been to Miami, so I was grateful for the opportunity to visit. I even managed to convince Mrs. IDP-PA to come along, without too much kicking and screaming (Mr: “You do realize that I’ll be tied up with the conference most of the time, right?” Mrs: “Actually, that’s the part I’m looking forward to.” It’s this brutal honesty that really makes our relationship work.) I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if Miami and I were really going to get along (Case in point: while packing up last week, looking over the hotel’s website for things to do while we’re there, one of the suggestions was as follows: “When you’re in Miami, it’s all about image. Rent the newest Lamborghini Gallardo, pull up in front of the trendiest Nightclub and get the full VIP treatment.” Uhm, yeah. Considering that I’m more of a “Jump in my Subaru Legacy, find a parking spot at Target, and be home in time for ‘Pawn Stars’” kind of a guy, this didn’t seem to bode well.), but as it turned out, we managed just fine.

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No pressure here! As long as Windows isn’t scheduled for an update, I should be just fine…

This year’s conference included a panel discussion on the role social media can play in educating aspiring architects about IDP, ARE, and licensure, presented by NCARB’s Samantha Miller and yours truly. I hear that it went well — I actually have no idea, since I “blacked out a little” while speaking, like Will Farrell in Old School. (Actually, I do remember, and will probably base a later post on at least some of it.) The crowd of nearly 200 was by far the largest that I have ever presented in front of, and I sincerely thank the gang at NCARB for the opportunity.

Here are ten things I learned at the 2013 IDPCC:

10. Despite a complete overhaul (increasing its clarity and tying it more closely to the Experience Categories in IDP), and offering numerous opportunities in all experience areas, hardly anyone enrolled in IDP is utilizing the Emerging Professionals Companion. (Roughly 1,000 out of over 70,000 record holders have reported credit earned from the EPC.). Expect a post about this in the near future.

IMG_13749. NCARB has some excellent swag — the beach ball was an inspired touch. And those foil-wrapped chocolates of theirs are insanely addictive.

8. Very few young professionals are taking advantage of the opportunities for Supplemental Experience. (Students, on the other hand, are fully engaged with this aspect of IDP.)

7. Five intelligent, articulate, well-educated coordinators, along with their significant others, each armed with a smart phone equipped with sophisticated global positioning applications, cannot locate a local well-reviewed Thai restaurant less than a mile from the hotel. It defies logic.

6. I have no idea if an IDP 3.0 is anywhere in our near future, but if we ever move in that direction, we’ll have plenty of excellent ideas to draw from. The participants in last December’s Intern Think Tank completely blew me away with their blue-sky ideas of how the internship process could be improved upon… while, at the same time, admitting that our current model is working pretty well. Fascinating stuff from a really impressive group. (And if any of you reading this have any ideas of your own, get ready to share them at this year’s event.)

20130804-210542.jpg5. If the name of your hotel contains the word “Kimpton,” it’s going to be pretty swank. Gorgeous rooms, friendly staff, and a free wine happy hour in the lobby, every day — how could you possibly go wrong? The Allegro in Chicago was pretty impressive, but Miami’s Epic takes the cake.

4. Semantics can be a pretty important thing. I (very publicly) made the comment that there are nine schools of architecture in Pennsylvania — which simply means nine locations that I should be trying to visit, in order to connect with students — but that statement isn’t correct. PA actually has 9 universities with architectural programs — 6 of which are accredited schools of architecture, 2 non-accredited undergraduate programs, and 1 applicant for NAAB status (a process that takes three years). Open mouth, insert foot. Sigh. Live and learn. (And for those of you that heard me say it, consider this my official retraction.)

3. Pecha-kucha style “20×20” presentations were an efficient — and entertaining — way of sharing some personal perspectives on the internship process. These five presentations were very as unique as the individuals giving them, and a great way to close out the two-day conference.

installing-update_sf 2. Even while using a laptop computer running Microsoft PowerPoint in presentation mode, while speaking in front of an audience of roughly 200 people, you are not immune to the debilitating effects of a scheduled software upgrade. Windows Updater, apparently, trumps all. (Thank goodness for the immediate response from NCARB’s customer service team, Martin Smith and Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate!)

1. Cheating a little, since this is actually something that I learned last year, but the apathy level in this group is zero. I am honored to be included in such an intelligent, energetic, and motivated group of individuals, each of whom have devoted so much time and energy toward the development of our next generation of architects (and on a volunteer basis, to boot). I’ve truly been inspired by these people, and look forward to spending another few days with them next year. Lamborghini Gallardo optional.